Graphic: Emily Metcalf
Graphic: Emily Metcalf

BY JORENE BARUT – Windward District OfficeGovernment officials and business leaders, educators, students and parents attended the Castle Complex Redesign Initiative orientation on Sept. 29. The project will ultimately define and create a plan for the two Castle secondary schools based on school community input and best practice in order to ready all students for colleges and careers.

The meeting at the Kokokahi YWCA in Kaneohe introduced the effort to about 70 handpicked movers and shakers, who were invited to join the program. Among those attending were Senator Jill Tokuda; Michael Broderick, YMCA Honolulu President and CEO; Kaneohe Business Group President Ned Busch; and Board of Education member Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported on the event and Olelo filmed it.

Along with the DOE participants, volunteers who join the Redesign Team will embark on a nine-month planning journey that addresses the urgent need for substantive improvement in student achievement, and promotion and graduation rates at Castle High School. This school- community engagement effort will first focus on rethinking and redesigning the two secondary schools.

Design Thinking Hawaii will train the redesign team. Members will learn the Design Thinking process that was developed and permeates all colleges at Stanford University. The process became famous through IDEO. IDEO is an international design and innovation consulting firm that promotes an approach to problem solving that includes thinking outside the box and arriving at solutions by involving end users, or students. IDEO was ranked one of the top 25 most innovative companies in Businessweek magazine; received the Design Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewlitt National Design Museum; and has won more IDEO awards than any other design firm.

Core Redesign Team members attended a three-day Design Thinking workshop in Honolulu last August. Collectively, the team will help each other focus their creativity and innovation to develop new educational approaches. The Redesign Initiative is a preemptive movement that allows the Castle Complex school-community to arrive at changes and decisions on their terms rather than to struggle with standardized terms and approaches that are largely inefficient.

This unprecedented push comes at a time when Castle High School’s test scores are in a downward spiral. The graduation rate is 73 percent and up to 30  percent of the freshman class fails.

Castle Complex Superintendent Lea Albert kicked off the unveiling. “This meeting is three years in the making,” she said. The goal is “not to fix but to refine … keep what is best and redesign with the support of the community. … It’s a shared responsibility.”

According to Albert, the redesign is “an alternative to reconstitution and will give our Kaneohe/Waiahole/Kahaluu students, families, alumni, community and school personnel a say in design changes to the school.”  Act 148, passed last session by the legislature, provides the superintendent with the authority to reconstitute a failing school. “Reconstitution is not a threat,” said Albert, “but it is a strong possibility and a very unattractive alternative.”

Albert stated that research indicates that students start thinking about dropping out in fourth grade and high school dropouts begin their pattern of chronic failure in ninth grade. She dispelled any notions that a majority of Castle dropouts, who are mostly males, complete the GED.

July 2012 is the target completion date for the Redesign plan that best meets students’ needs and ensures accountability for measurable results. Its phased implementation would begin in July 2012.

Redesign Team Project Manager Bernice Bowers explained a key component in the process – identifying students’ needs versus operating on preconceived ideas about their needs. In addition, she described how visual representations of the proposed plan will be presented to the community – for example, to retail facilities and schools – for feedback. “The goal for the final report is to capture the best feedback from all pertinent sources,” she said.

Keith Matsumoto, Design Thinking Coach, elaborated on Design Thinking’s critical nature: defining requirements from the users’ standpoints and “designing with, not designing for.” The process is human-centered with a culture of prototyping and a focus on empathy,” he said.

The 2.5-hour meeting concluded with a 45-minute team exercise. The rules of engagement were to think like a child; defer judgment; encourage wild ideas; and strive for quantity over quality. The activity demonstrated how the school year-long process will evolve from interviewing, capturing findings and defining a problem statement to sketching radical ways to meet users’ needs, capturing feedback and sharing solutions.

Among the exercise results were ideas about starting mentorships, project-based learning and place-based learning. Students at the meeting voiced their need to feel encouraged. Following the exercise, attendees specified how they would contribute to the team: as a full member, consultant or recipient of informational updates.

The Redesign Initiative is funded by the Hawaii Department of Education; the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation; and the Hawaii Community Foundation with fiscal sponsorship from the Pacific American Foundation.

The next Redesign Team meetings will be held Thurs., Oct. 27 and Thurs., Nov. 17. For more information, contact Bernice Bowers at 808-489-2137 or e-mail her at

Jorene Barut is an Education Journalist with the Hawaii State Department of Education